Music of the Future

Photo of Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (ca.1856 Photo by Félix Nadar)

One of the last letters by Rossini shows that the seventy-six-old composer was keenly aware of the latest trends in music–and had strong opinions about them. Referring to composers touting “music of the future,” he wrote to a friend on August 26, 1868:

There is no such thing as progress or decadence in the latest novelties. They are sterile inventions, the product of perseverance rather than inspiration. Once and for all, let them find the courage to throw off convention and embrace with light hearts and complete confidence those aspects of Italian music that are divine and genuinely charming–simple melody and variety of rhythm.

If our young colleagues follow these principles they will achieve the fame they desire and their compositions will have the long life enjoyed by those of our predecessors–Marcello, Palestrina, and Pergolesi, which is certainly fated for today’s celebrities–Mercadante, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi.

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You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve intentionally left out the word imitation for the benefit of young composers in that I’ve referred only to melody and rhythm. I will remain forever steadfast in my belief that Italian music–vocal music in particular–is entirely ideal and expressive, never imitative, as certain materialist philosophers suggest. Permit me to assert that the feelings of the heart may be expressed but not imitated.

If imitation is accompanied by elevated artistic feeling and a touch of genius–with which nature is not generous–then even though genius rebels against the rules, it will be as it has always been, in a single gesture, the creator of beauty!